24 Aug Every revolution begins with a spark;
Just finished listening to PM Lee’s National Day Rally on YouTube and I felt like I needed to give my two cents worth of being a Singaporean, especially one who represents the country but has decided to stay overseas in order to chase her dreams. Is Singapore not good enough for me that I have to train in Sydney?
It’s my second year not being in Singapore for national day and I feel guilty, as though I’ve just betrayed a best friend’s trust. I’ve missed plenty of my friend’s birthdays and weddings and baby showers and now, missing my nation’s birthday two years in a row? A bit too much, Aisyah!
Singapore’s not perfect, we all know that. Yes, Australians still tell me, “Oh, you’re from Singapore! What a clean country!” making me beam with pride a little, although I was hoping to hear more than us being clean, or being a city for shopaholics or having a very nice airport. (But what exactly do I want to hear them say about the country? I don’t really know!) Having a picnic at the Botanical Gardens will only make you wish you had just suggested hi-tea anywhere else but outdoors PLEASE. Singaporeans are not the friendliest or nicest people around. Singapore’s not exactly a cheap place to live in. Owning a car is a luxury and unless you have a million dollars in your pocket, you will never actually get to buy a house. And the “gahmen”, ah yes, the good old Singapore government. Unless we have been living under a rock, we know the system is not perfect.
And I am pretty sure by now you must be thinking, “Eh, woman. You think you get to live in Ang moh country you big shot is it? Go migrate lah, one lesser burden in the country.”
We are not perfect. We know the deepest secrets of our closest family members and friends, we choose to marry someone whom we know has flaws, but it is the imperfections that makes us attracted to a person, or an object. Singapore is not your perfect, idyllic country. But you know what, it works for the 5million (and growing) people living on that tiny island. You don’t need to be perfect to have someone to love you, you just be yourself.
So don’t worry, all 173cm of me and my brown skin and obviously dyed and highlighted copper hair and all my melayu-ness, I love Singapore with all my heart, even though our beaches are not comparable to that of Sydney’s coastal landscapes, even though sometimes we disagree with how things are being run but we dare not say anything about it for the fear of being locked up, even though Singapore is not a perfect nation. I love Singapore, that, you must know. Wearing the national colours with the crest on my chest and SINGAPORE in big, bold letters on my back whenever I’m overseas is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and it is still happening.
We complain, we want changes, we want this, we want that, but we have to face the truth that in life, we can’t get everything we want. We win some, we lose some. We don’t like how things are being run here sometimes but do we think about how lucky we are to have a proper education system, an opportunity to get good jobs, how fortunate we are to have a roof over our heads (although we know we don’t really own the houses we live in), how grateful we should be that we grew up in a multicultural city with traditions and values to live by, how we always mock the tanks and guns that are only used during the National Day Parade but not think about how we are able to walk out of our own homes not having to worry about scurrying for the nearest bomb shelter if the siren wails? (Not that we should be complacent about this, but you get my point)
Yes, I do get upset about certain domestic issues too. With the Olympic Games coming up next year, I can just foresee Singaporeans being utterly unhappy about our athletes who are quite obviously not born and bred here. We complain, and then what? Are we doing anything about it to actually help the local athletes? Or are we just sitting there in the comfort of our own homes, expressing unhappiness at how things are being run and then feel sorry for the athletes who are fighting for their dreams?
What are you doing about it?
Sports is still seen as a pastime in Singapore. A hobby. Something you do to get your mind off work, or to keep fit or stay healthy, to have an active, social life. To look good, to have interesting things to post on your social media other than your boring daily routine of work and food.
That is why when I tell people that I row as a profession, Singaporeans, especially will look at me in surprise. You mean, you can actually be a professional athlete?
You can be anything you want. This is your life. And unfortunately, it is the only one you’re gonna have. You choose what you want to do, what makes you happy. There is no point spending everyday of your life doing something you don’t like. I always, always, always tell this to my friends. GO AND DO WHAT YOU LOVE. When you wake up every single day doing something you’re so fkg passionate about, it is the most amazing feeling in the world.
That is my life everyday at the moment. Except that being a girl, like any other girl in the world, I have my own shit and issues to sort (like PMS for example. PMS is real, guys), and knowing that life is cruel can make me forget that I am actually living the dream right here, right now.
The hardest thing about following your heart, is that sometimes, doing the things you truly love doesn’t make you rich. I have learnt to accept that being a rower will not get me rich, it won’t put money in my pockets. Even if I do get to achieve this Olympic dream of mine, being there, won’t pay me a single cent. That’s the hard truth about passion. You do it for love, not for money.
Truth is, (and I am not afraid of putting this out here because why not, it is the truth and nothing else but the truth) I do not get paid as a professional athlete. The government doesn’t pay me to row. Sometimes they do give me allowances under the Loss of Wages Scheme but that is only for major competitions and only if they see a potential in you. So as I embark on this Olympic journey at this moment, I do not qualify for this scheme. I am funding myself using the savings I have put aside in my bank under the savings labelled “Wedding” (I am not kidding you). There also have been a few kind souls out there who have contributed to my survival fund here (May God bless these kind souls).
I don’t blame these people for not seeing a potential in me to qualifying for the Games and therefore not funding my dreams. Singapore has never had a Singaporean rower in the Olympics. It seems a bit far-fetched that I want to qualify next year for Rio and I can’t even medal in the Asian Games last year. Of course I was disappointed when I was rejected from all sorts of scholarships and sponsorships and getting the cold, hard truth of “not (being) good enough” thrown right at your face. The truth isn’t really that I’m not good enough or that I “don’t have the potential to qualify for the Olympics”, of course I know that I’m pretty damn good at what I do. But the harsh truth is that there are people out there who don’t believe in me. And yes, these quotes in inverted commas were actually being said to me. Being rejected makes you feel worthless and for a moment, life doesn’t feel like it is worth living anymore. But you get a grip of yourself and remind yourself of the tens of thousands of stories that successful people have in common- most of them faced rejections, plenty were seen as failures, but what they all had in common was that they fought hard for what they believed in. All these negative comments I’ve received, they’re just firing up the “let’s prove people wrong” Aisyah waiting to be unleashed. Hell yeah!
So, I got a bit side-tracked there. What does all these got to do with National Day and being a Singaporean? Not being paid to be a professional athlete doesn’t make me love Singapore any lesser. Am I stupid to still row for a country that doesn’t pay me to row for her?
Does my mum hating my rowing career make me love her any lesser?
No. Life doesn’t work that way. You don’t hate something or someone because you don’t get something you want from them. They have their own reasons for not giving it to you. Sometimes, you disagree with how your parents brought you up and you wouldn’t want to bring up your own children the way they did. You change for the better of the future generation (WAH speaking like an MP here). But it is so true and I’ve learnt that complaining helps to relieve your burden sometimes but if you want to see changes, you make the change.You become the change. That is what being a Singaporean has taught me- to complain and then to change (because you can’t run away from the fact that we complain so goddamn much). I am not in a sport that is able to finance my dreams. I am not born into a wealthy family. I am being told that I am not good enough and even my mum tells me to stop chasing this dream of mine! That’s complaining.
Dreams don’t come true if I sit there, complain, and do nothing about it.
That is why I took action. I know that Singapore Rowing doesn’t have the capacity to provide me with a world-class training environment to make me a rowing beast. I complained about this to them and then I waited and nothing happened. So I decided to pack my bag and leave for Sydney where I have a full-time coach pushing me hard every single session, where the girls I train with took every training session like a competition- even in who gets to put their boat on water first. That made me win that Gold medal in 2013, having that competitive edge that made the SEA Games finals seem like just another hard training session. And hopefully it will make me qualify for the Olympics next year too.
But as much as I love training here, I will never forget my roots- where it all began. If it wasn’t for the Singapore Rowing, with all its politics and shit, I wouldn’t even be here today representing the nation.
I think that is what we tend to forget. Now that most of us are fortunate enough to travel and see the world, we often compare the places we visit to our homeland. We become arrogant. Now, we see our country from the outside and realised how stifling it is to be in there, how the grass is greener outside of Singapore. And then we ever so conveniently forget that that tiny piece of island that we came from, with all its restrictions and regulations, that imperfect city with all its subtle propaganda, this bloody hot and humid city, the one with the half-hearted beaches and now becoming very Cheena- that is where we came from.
And about the foreign athletes issue, if they do bring medals at the Games for the nation and that puts Singapore on the world map in the sporting scene and this will somehow boost the economy of the country, do we still shun them like we did? I’ve never really had a chance to get to know a foreign athlete so as much as I despise the foreign athletes scheme (yes I do because I am local and I’ve learnt not to be afraid of voicing my opinions if it changes things for the better), I think it is unfair for us to dislike them just based on where they come from. It is not their fault to be damn good at what they do, is it?
If we want our own born and bred athletes to stand on the podium at the Games, are we willing to help them get there? How far will you go to help them?
How far will you go to help me reach my dreams?
I don’t hope for a revolution (in case you’re wondering about the Hunger Games quote at the start of this post). I actually love my country and I truly respect the politicians for what they’ve done for the nation. I mean, look at how the economy is booming, how our currency is almost 1:1 to the Australian Dollar. But what I do hope is that people change- a revolution within themselves. We need to be kinder to others. We need to be more giving. We need to learn to be grateful and happy. We need to complain less and do more. We need to be the change we want to see.
Vote for me, maybe? :p